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Graduation day advice you probably don’t want

By Austin Lawrence Butler

Graduation season is upon us!

With just that sentence, I’ve already lost half of the audience of students reading this post because the pressure seems so great today. Most of you will find, as you are preparing to graduate and move to the next chapter of your life, that there are two really annoying questions that people keep asking you:

1. Where are you going to college?

2. What are you going to study?

This might put pressure on you even if you’ve already made a decision. I understand. When I graduated high school in 2010, I had a lot on my mind as well. A defining thing about me is that I am an identical twin – I know what you’re asking yourself and yes, it’s awesome. My twin and I went through the IB Diploma Programme together, yet we had very different aspirations. At a young age, he gravitated towards film while I have always been more entrepreneurial in nature, starting small businesses online and learning about new ways to make money.

What does this have to do with those two questions that everyone asks you when you graduate? I’ll get back to that later in the post. Right now, I want you to think of one artist and one business person you admire. Now, how comparable do you think they are they in terms of their worldviews? For this example to work, I hope you’ve concluded that they are generally very different.

Now, think about your own experience right now, being compared to your peers as everyone is asking the same overwhelming personal questions. For me, not only was I being compared to everyone around me, but I was also being compared to the very successful artist brother who I shared a home with.

I have learned, as I have grown older, that regardless of whether it is your sibling or your peers, you will always be compared to others. It is annoying and often the metrics are not objective. However, it will persist. And as you get older, people’s first questions will be “what do you do?” instead of ”where do you go to school?” and the cycle continues.

Austin Infographic

In general, unless it’s someone I know and trust, I don’t usually enjoy hearing unsolicited advice from people. That being said, I hope you have the capacity to listen to a hypocrite because I am going to share a few daily rituals that help me get through the anxiety of being young and finding your way. Whether you are leaving for college or starting your first job, these will be helpful no matter your plans.

Say Yes to Everything (Almost*)

Take time to have new experiences, and if there is something ‘ridiculous’ that you want to try—like starting a business or learning a new sport–make the effort to do it and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Feeling outside of your comfort zone is only temporary, but it is in that period that you will learn the most about yourself. Keep chasing that feeling because it gets harder to find as you get older.

Learn about the things that interest you.

You will get a lot of advice in college about picking a major. Yes, the point of college is to build skills and to become marketable to employers. You will want to pick something that creates value for others in an industry you can tolerate or maybe even enjoy. That is huge. However, there is still plenty of room for exploring other subjects. I chose to design my own entrepreneurial major, which encompassed courses from everywhere not exclusive to the business school. This was a great choice for me, but I will say that if I could go back, I would have added more technology-based classes to increase my skill set. I have found that the majority of my businesses require a technology component that I am still developing and, thus, take longer and are more expensive because I can’t manage them myself. It is not impossible to go back to school after you graduate but it is much harder to do when you are working and trying to have a ‘normal’ life. I encourage you to research major career trends around the world and after you’ve chosen a path, try to find a way to integrate your interests. The best way to identify those interests is to pay attention to what you read about when you aren’t doing work related to school. Those topics will help inform other areas you could learn a new skill or maybe even start a business.

Get Lost

Do not be afraid of that feeling when you’ve run off course or you aren’t sure what you want anymore. You will think you’ve got your life planned and figured out at multiple points throughout your life, but the reality is it’s impossible. That cliché saying, “we make plans while life happens” could not be more accurate. Relax and try to embrace that feeling by living in the moment. This can be done through yoga, mindfulness breathing exercises, or any number of habits. When I feel I’ve hit a dead end or lost interest in something, I remind myself of what I have by creating gratitude lists. This small ritual will help focus you every morning and will keep all of the stress and even the excitement in perspective. You’ll most certainly be happier, and that feeling will give you the inspiration to build your life the way you want to.

The last piece of advice for something that I still struggle with daily is that there isn’t one way to go through this world. I can assure you no one has it figured out. People may think they have, and sometimes give advice on an international blog(!), but the reality is that you have to get out there and live to see the full picture. The video included at the beginning of this article is a great montage of people throughout their lives giving advice to their younger self. My favorite person in this video is the elderly man at the end that says:

Dear 91-year-old, don’t listen to other people’s advice. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. Signed a 93-year-old. Just do your own thing. That’s the way I see it.

He’s right. Best of luck, and enjoy!

Austin Lawrence Butler graduated from the IB Diploma Programme at Henrico High School in the United States and attended the University of Richmond.